Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.

Q Good afternoon! (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m like, “Geez, I’m all by myself up here.” (Laughter.) Okay.

So, we have another special guest joining us today, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who is here to highlight how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will help close the digital divide in America for more than 30 million Americans who do not have access to reliable, high-speed Internet, particularly in minority and rural communities.

As you all know, the Secretary is a member of the President Jo- — President’s Jobs Cabinet, who was deeply involved in negotiations on the Hill that culminated in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness.

Today, the Secretary will discuss the role of the Department of Commerce in implementing this bill to build up broadband infrastructure. This will deliver for the American people by teaching digital skills, getting kids the devices they need to succeed, and improving overall accessibility and affordability.

And after she is done giving her remarks, I will — we’ll take Q&A. And I’ll make sure to guide that and get people in the front and get people in the back.

Secretary. All yours.

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Good afternoon, everybody.

Q Good afternoon.

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me here today. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you.

I suppose before I talk about broadband, I just want to take a moment to recognize what an incredible accomplishment it was last week to get the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill accomplished.

I can tell you, prior to this job, I was governor of Rhode Island for six years, and every year, we thought — we were told an infrastructure bill was “around the corner”; “It’s going to come, Governor. The infrastructure money is coming.” But, of course, it never did.

And President Biden delivered. President Biden stepped up; he led. None of this could have been done without his leadership. He was so personally engaged, working across the aisle to compromise, to get results, to deliver for the American people. And that’s what happened.

And I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of this. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help Americans and deliver for Americans.

As it relates to the Commerce Department, it is going to enable us at the Commerce Department to fund key priorities that will have very tangible, positive impacts for American workers and businesses.

Just to tick off a few things: It’s substantial funding for NOAA to increase climate resiliency and restore and improve coastal habitats. It is, very excitingly, permanent authorization for the Minority Business Development Agency and $1.6 billion to that agency. MBDA, which resides in the Commerce Department, is the only federal agency solely focused on promoting the growth, development, and resiliency of minority-owned businesses. So it’s — it’s pretty incredible.

But today I’m going to focus particularly on broadband, as Karine said. President Biden has set a very ambitious goal for his administration that we must connect all Americans — all Americans, regardless of where they live — to high-speed, affordable Internet. And thanks to the passage of the bill, we will be able to accomplish just that.

The Infrastructure Investment Act allocates $65 billion to expand broadband in communities all across America to create low-cost options and subsidize the cost of service for those who need it. Of that $65 billion, about $45 billion will be coming to the Commerce Department at NTIA to administer that program.

I will say this is an area that I am particularly passionate about, having been a governor during the pandemic and being with people who didn’t have broadband — children who couldn’t go to school, people who couldn’t go see a doctor or a therapist. It is heartbreaking and it showed, in a very real and human way, how broad- — how essential broadband is. And the fact of the matter is: We have to close the digital divide. Period.

And this infrastructure bill will allow us to do that. And the $48 billion coming to the Commerce Department will allow us to do that.

Beyond the physical infrastructure — laying fiber — affordability is just as important. Affordability is just as important as access. It does a family no good if there’s broadband in their community but they can’t afford it. Closing the digital divide means both providing the broadband and making sure it’s affordable.

So, the investments in this bill will help ensure every American can access affordable, high-speed Internet, which means requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost affordable plan – everyone who gets a penny of this money is required to offer a low-cost, affordable plan; provide federal funding for broadband services to low-income families; requiring providers to be transparent about pricing to help families do comparison shopping for services where they have competitive options.

I will confess this is going to be a massive undertaking for the Department of Commerce, but we’re up for it. We’ve been planning for months, and we’re up for it.

We plan to work in close collaboration with states, counties, cities, community-based organizations, and the private sector in partnership to develop grant programs which will ensure that we roll this out in an efficient manner.

Broadband is the gateway to economic opportunity. And so, in order to open that gateway, we’re putting equity at the center of everything we do.

I will say: To truly transform our economy into one that works for all Americans and one that will make our country more competitive on the world stage, we have to make investments in a way that is equitable and just.

And we view this lens across all of the work we do at the Commerce Department, and it will be particularly front and center with the broadband work that we will be doing.

It will not be easy. This will be technically difficult. This will requi- — it’s an implementation challenge. But it is necessary. It is necessary.

And I believe — I know that implementing this in partnership with our partners on the ground, we will be able to close the digital divide, close the innovation divide, and achieve the President’s goal of making sure that every American, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin or their income, has access to broadband.

And I will say: 30, 40, 50 years from now, we will look back on this as the turning point, as a critical turning point. Because now that we’re moving even more toward a digital economy and a data economy and a tech economy, nobody can be left behind. And that means everybody has broadband. And due to the President’s leadership, we’re going to be able to deliver on that.

So, with that, I will turn it over to you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you.

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Secretary, for being here. Can you walk us through the logistics of how the money is going to be allocated? From what I understand, at least $100 million will go to states.

And then, is it totally up to the states to determine what projects to launch? Or will there be federal oversight? But basically, I’m trying to understand how the money is going to get funneled through and how the remaining money is going to be allocated.

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yes. Thank you. So, in terms of the practicality of it, each state will receive $100 million, as you said. The remaining money will be allocated based on need, based on how many underserved households there are in that state.

So, the whole name of the game here is to focus on the underserved and the unserved and on affordability. We have to make sure that we don’t spend this money overbuilding. So — which means we’ll have to work very closely with the FCC and using their maps to make sure that we focus the money where broadband doesn’t exist now.

So, we plan — everyone gets $100 million. Beyond that, it’ll be based upon unserved, based upon need.

We’re going to give out a grant, per state. And each state will then give grants to sub-grantees on the ground.

We are, as I just said, very focused on equity and making sure there’s affordability and ubiquity, which means we have to be flexible. Like in a state like Rhode Island, where I’m from, there’s no “rural Rhode Island.” So — you know, it’s a city — it’s an urban place. So, the needs in a place like Rhode Island will be more around affordability, inner-city access.

Contrast that with New Mexico — completely different topography. You know, 50 percent of people on Tribal lands don’t have broadband. We need to account for the flexibility there, which is why it’s going to be a state-by-state.

There will be a tremendous amount of federal oversight and transparency. Every state has to put their plan online for everyone to see. And we are going to have very strict criteria to make sure that we achieve the goals of affordability and access.

Q And when do you think the first expansion projects will get underway?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I’m sorry, say it again.

Q When will the projects get underway? When do you think states will physically start to implement?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah, so, you know, I will say, first, we have to have the law, and then it’ll take us some time to get set up — you know, some number of months.

So, I mean, it is — it’s hard to say. I would say, you know, well into next year.

Q Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m trying to pick people I haven’t called on.

Q Secretary, I’ll step in. With this new —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on a second.

Q (Cross-talk.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yamiche. Go ahead, Yamiche.

Q Thank you —

Q Secretary, a question for you —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on a second, sir.

Q Can you guarantee people living in Internet “dead zones” —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sir —

Yamiche, go ahead.

Q This is about Internet “dead zones” —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Yamiche.

Q Secretary Raimondo, thank you so much for taking my question. The first question I have is: Can you talk a bit about how quickly Americans will feel the impacts of this and as well as if there are some more longer-term goals that maybe are 10, 20 years down the line? Can you just talk a little bit about the timing of this?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, I say, first, there — you know, we are already implementing. You know, in the Rescue package, Commerce received some money related to broadband, and we’re already putting that out now. There’s a Tribal initiative. There’s a rural initiative. USDA — it has that; we’re working with them. So, some Americans will start to see relief, you know, this year — soon.

As I just said over here, the rest of this, I think it will take us some number of months to start getting the money out the door. It’ll be staged in. We want to get relief out there as fast as possible but in a quality way.

So, some of the affordability metrics, you know, and providing subsidies, that can happen more quickly. Laying fiber across America, that will take time. But we’ll be creating jobs at every step of the way.

Q And could I ask you one other quick question just about — can you talk a little bit about the equity portion? Are there percentages or numbers you want to hit? Maybe you won’t speak to them publicly here, but I’m wondering how the — how you’re going to measure success.

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Every single American has access to high-speed, affordable broadband, which means truly affordable.

Q Does that include people living in —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kristen. Kristen, go ahead.

Q — Internet “dead zones”? Internet “dead zones”?

Q Thank you, Secretary. Appreciate your being here. Obviously, as a former governor, you know the importance of the coordination with governors and the various states. Can you talk a little bit about the outreach so far? And are you taking the lead on that, in terms of being in touch with these various governors as they implement these changes?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yes, yes. So, we’ve all — I should tell you, we’ve been preparing for this. We are figuring out already how we’re going to staff it within the Department of Commerce; you know, how we’re going to hold — you know, make sure we have accountability. I’ve already had several convenings with governors. I’ve been speaking with governors, with mayors, with Tribal Leaders. And we will — now that this is official, we’re going to significantly ramp up that engagement.

Q And just to follow up very quickly, as you talked about, you need to target rural areas and then more urban areas. How do you determine which areas you’re addressing first? Is it an all hands-on-deck approach? How can we expect to see the rollout happen?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: We are asking each state to give us a plan. So, we are mandat- — you know, we are saying to them, “Show us a plan that guarantees every single person in your state has access to high-speed, affordable Internet.” And then we’re going to evaluate that plan, adjust it, provide technical assistance to make sure at the end of the day we hit the goal.

Q And just to push you on the timeline a little bit: Some of the physical infrastructure projects are estimated to take six months to a year. Is that about the same timeline that you’re tracking for this?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Look, some — it is really hard to say. We have to be flexible.

Laying fiber in a place with the mountainous, difficult topography, that could take years.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You in the back, here. Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, Secretary Raimondo. I want to ask you about implementation; it seems to be the focus of a lot of our questions. One year from yesterday, the midterm elections will take place. Can you guarantee that people all around the country will see that implementation take place before the midterm elections? And what type of projects are you looking at, in terms of implementation, between now and then?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, certainly Americans will feel and see in their communities much of the progress that we’ll — that the Biden administration is overseeing — I mean, from the Rescue package to the Infrastructure package. It is not the case — I think every community will see activity and action. Some communities will start to see, you know, people working laying fiber.

But I also think it’s important to be realistic, and you have to be honest with people, which is to say we want to get this right. You know, it’s more important to get it right than to rush.

So, I think people will see their state putting together a plan. They’ll see us starting to move out on that plan. But, you know, not everybody is going to have broadband a year from now.

Q A year after President Obama signed the Recovery Act, he acknowledged that this idea of shovel-ready jobs is not reasonable; it doesn’t exist. Would you agree with that statement, in terms of what President Obama said after the passage and his signature on the Recovery Act back in 2009?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: It depen- — look, there’s all different kinds of projects. There are many projects that are shovel ready; I can tell you that from being governor.

You know, in my state there are many projects that are shovel-ready, need money to be added.

There are others — and broadband is an example — that require more planning, that require thoughtful technical planning.

So, the whole point of the Infrastructure package is to deliver for Americans. I promise you this: A year from now, many, many people will be working in high-quality jobs because of this package.

But I also promise you that the President wants us to get it right. And if it takes a little longer to lay the — you know, lay the groundwork for fiber and broadband, then we’re going to do that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q Thank you, Karine.

Q What’s your message to people who live in Internet “dead zones,” ma’am?

Q Madam Secretary, thank for you taking my question.

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I can’t hear you. I’m sorry.

Q I wanted to ask —

Q (Inaudible) question?

Q I wanted to ask — thank you — about the deadline that your department had imposed to get voluntary data from semiconductor manufacturers and other companies. Did your department receive all of the information that it was looking for from these CEOs?

And then also, what’s your reaction to China appearing to be angry about TSMC’s compliance with your request? They called it “extortion of confidential information from chip firms” and talked about concerns that U.S. could use this information to sanction Beijing. What’s your reaction to that?

SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah, so the deadline was yesterday. So, it’s — we haven’t yet had the opportunity to go through all the submissions. I will tell you, over the past couple of weeks, I have spoken to the CEOs of a number of semiconductor companies — including TSMC; asked them for their compliance; and they all said that they would be complying and sending us the information that we’re asking for.

It is laughable to suggest that it’s coercion, because it is voluntary. We’re asking them to cooperate with us. And the truth is that this is what —

Look, President Biden has said to us on his team, “Use every tool that we have to deliver relief for the American people around supply chains.” And so, that’s what we’re doing. This is a tool in the Commerce’s toolbox, and we’re using it — and, I think, to great effect.

And every CEO I’ve talked to, including TSMC, has said it’s a good idea. It will increase transparency in the supply chain, which will cut down on bottlenecks. And that’s why they’re complying — their own choice.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.